ROTC Cadets Connect Doctors and Patients in Ecuador

For some Ecuadorians, Brigham Young University's Army ROTC cadets gave a new meaning to the word lifeline as they provided the most crucial link between doctor and patient: communication.

Nine BYU cadets interpreted for medical patients in Ecuador as part of Operation Continuing Promise, a humanitarian-service mission by the Department of Defense. Their work took them to makeshift clinics in local elementary schools and onboard the USNS Comfort.

"This was a wonderfully unique experience that helped Ecuadorians receive medical treatment in a way they could understand," says Lt. Col. Marc Boberg, professor of military science and the trip's adviser. "Our cadets helped put smiles on the faces of those who may not have been able to receive the same medical attention for a very long time."         

The team was joined by two cadets from other participating universities and helped more than 9,200 patients during the two-week mission. The elementary schools housed everything from eye exams to tooth extractions. Patients requiring surgery were taken onboard the Comfort, a military hospital ship.

"The best part about being on the ship was seeing the patients after their operation," says Cadet Michael Ahlborn, a sophomore majoring in microbiology from Houston. "In every case they expressed joy and appreciation for receiving such great medical care, and many even enjoyed their stay on the ship so much they asked if they could stay a while longer."

Boberg says the mission was a special opportunity for his cadets to help patients develop trust in the doctors and aid them in receiving life-changing care. Boberg, who also served as an interpreter, recounts one story in particular. A little boy came to the doctors with terrible knee-joint problems requiring him to use a wheelchair. Boberg watched the boy leave the ship after an operation that eventually helped him walk.

Cadet Daniel Cox stands by to interpret for a patient who is being helped by medical personnel.
Cadet Daniel Cox stands by to interpret for a patient who is being helped by medical personnel.
"The waiting list in Ecuador was two years for that same procedure," Boberg says. "His life was changed, and he was going to be able to do things he hadn't been able to do up to that point."

The experience also provided the cadets with enhanced foreign language experience, culture immersion and experience with the military outside the role of combat. At the conclusion of their medical service, the cadets toured Ecuador on a diplomatic mission to foster international relations. They visited the U.S. Embassy to learn about the role of the United States in Ecuador and visited Ecuadorian government institutions, including the presidential palace. Before returning home they also took time to interact directly with locals — building relationships and representing the U.S. Army and BYU in a positive way.

"You can study a country and its language in a college course, but you can't truly understand people until you get to know them, learn what they believe about their own culture and history, and what they believe about the United States," says Cadet Logan Cicotte, a senior majoring in linguistics from Harrisburg, Pa.

Cadet Patrick O’Donahue helps interpret for a young dental patient.
Cadet Patrick O’Donahue helps interpret for a young dental patient.
Cadet Daniel Cox, a sophomore majoring in business management from San Luis Obispo, Calif., says that these interactions — shaking the peoples' hands and listening to their words of gratitude — were one of the highlights of his service.

"Our time in Ecuador not only helped us gain a greater appreciation for the comforts we have but also made us proud to be part of a country that would go to such great lengths to help others," Cox says.

The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems and entrepreneurship. The school's mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School's graduate and undergraduate programs.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Tori Ackerman